bookmark_borderThe worst sensory experience of my life

On Saturday night, I endured the worst sensory experience of my life.

I was walking to the train station from work, and out of nowhere I was attacked by the worst wind imaginable. Wind so horrendous that I don’t even think the word “wind” is adequate to characterize it. It attacked me with a viciousness and brutality so severe that it felt like sharp claws ripping and tearing at my clothing and skin. It felt like being stabbed by a million icy cold knives, my skin shredded to pieces. I was in such atrocious pain that I was literally screaming in agony while I sprinted down the block to the train station. (There were a few people out and about who almost certainly thought I was insane; I’m lucky that no one called the cops.)

It was torture.

In my opinion, weather is simply not supposed to be the way it was during that torturous walk. Obviously, part of existing on earth is the fact that on different days, you get different types of weather. There are warm days, cold days, sunny days, cloudy days, rainy days, and, yes, windy days. But this was not merely a windy day. This was an abomination. Air is simply not supposed to act like this.

The wind was so bad, in fact, that even inside the train station, even after I had angrily stomped up the stairs to the second level of the station, ice cold wind was still blowing through the train station.

The experience was so horrific that even hours after returning home, I could not recover. No amount of being inside a warm, wind-free house, or drinking hot tea, could help me to feel better. The only thing I wanted was to scream and scream and scream at the top of my lungs, and to smash every building on that evil block into pieces until all of the apartments and all of the storefronts were reduced to a heap of rubble.

The experience itself lasted only a minute or so, because I was only a block away from the train station when I was assaulted by the abominable wind, but I could not get it out of my brain. I re-experienced it again and again while I was lying in bed, trying futilely to fall asleep. The sensation of the wind ripping and tearing at my face and neck, and buffeting and battering my body, is permanently etched into my consciousness.

As an autistic person, sensory sensitivities (finding certain sensory experiences unpleasant, distressing, and even painful, which most people are not bothered by) are a big part of my life.

As you may have guessed, wind is my biggest sensory sensitivity. Noise is one as well, particularly sudden noises that come out of nowhere. Light is another, particularly when it is at the wrong angle, shining directly into my eyes.

Obviously, although most people would likely not enjoy spending time in such strong wind, my autism is why the wind felt so incredibly distressing and painful to me.

I am certain that if other people experienced what I did during that horrible walk, avoiding creating the conditions that cause such strong gusts of wind would be the number one priority of every city and town government, every architectural firm, and every civil engineering department. If other people experienced what I did, they would do whatever it took to prevent such an experience from happening to another person ever again. Even if that meant demolishing buildings and rebuilding them in a different place. Even if it meant razing entire city blocks and entire neighborhoods.

But other people do not experience what I do.

So I’ve been thinking about steps that I could take to decrease the odds of having a repeat of this experience. As I’ve embraced my autistic identity more and more, I’ve been thinking about ways to accommodate my sensory sensitivities, ways to avoid being subjected to the things that cause me discomfort and distress, ways to hopefully allow me to have a better quality of life.

The autistic community is pretty much in agreement that sensory sensitivities do not diminish with repeated exposure. Autistic people can’t “get used to” the things that bother us, or learn to tolerate them over time. If anything, it’s the opposite: the more we are exposed to something that bothers our sensory sensitivities, the more it bothers us.

Wind is a difficult thing to avoid, however.

It is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty whether any particular street or block will be particularly windy at any particular time. Yes, some streets are more predisposed to wind than others, but on the Saturday night from hell, a street that has frequently had terrible wind in the past was fine, while the abomination happened on a street that has never been a problem, wind-wise, before. I could choose a route to the train station that avoids both of these streets, but there’s no guarantee that a different street won’t randomly happen to have terrible wind.

Because wind is just that – random. I’m sure there are scientific laws that explain why some places tend to be more windy than others (I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know the details), but any prediction is inexact and uncertain. I check my weather app each morning, but it is an imprecise guide. There have been days when the app shows a wind warning and/or an icon signifying strong wind, but once outside I don’t find the wind to be particularly bad. Conversely, there have also been days with no wind warning and no icon, on which I nonetheless find the wind to be absolutely awful.

Clothing such as scarves, down parkas, and hats with ear flaps help, but don’t prevent suffering entirely when the wind is really bad. It’s also not really socially acceptable to wear such clothing in spring, and wind can really bother me in that season as well, even though the temperature is not as cold.

I could take Uber or Lyft to and from work to minimize my amount of walking, but that would be much more expensive than the train, and I also enjoy riding the train much more than I enjoy being in a car one-on-one with another person, with whom I feel obligated to make small talk.

I could buy a car (something that I don’t currently own) and drive everywhere that I need to go as opposed to taking public transportation or walking, but that would be quite expensive as well. Plus, there’d still be a chance of getting attacked by a gust of wind in the parking lot.

The only way to avoid wind entirely is to never leave one’s house, and that is neither a practical option nor a desirable one. I wouldn’t be able to work, for starters, at least not at my current job. Plus, I really enjoy running errands such as going to the post office, bank, convenience store, and grocery store. I also enjoy walking around in both natural and urban environments and taking photos of the things that I see. And walking is good exercise, which is valuable as well.

Having said all of that, I am trying to manage risks wisely and minimize exposure to the things that bother my sensory sensitivities when it makes sense to do so.

Yesterday, for example, with Saturday’s abomination still fresh in my mind, I decided to take the bus to the downtown area to buy face cream at the drug store, deposit my paycheck, and get a coffee at Dunkin. Normally I would walk, but as I was about to leave my house, I realized that the bus was due to come soon, and I was able to catch it without waiting a long time. The timing of my errands worked out so that I was able to easily take the bus back home as well. All in all, I was able to complete the tasks I needed to do, walk around the downtown and observe all the goings-on there, and snap a few photos of the bright and snowy day, without being subjected to significant wind.

While wind (like noise or light) is impossible to entirely avoid or accurately predict, I am learning that there are measures that I can take to minimize my exposure. Gradually, I am finding ways to enjoy the activities that are important to me without being subjected to unnecessary distress from my sensory environment.

bookmark_borderMasking is not a privilege

I’ve seen several posts on social media lately claiming that masking is a privilege.

For those who aren’t super familiar with the world of autism, masking is the ability of an autistic person to essentially “pass” as neurotypical – to copy the mannerisms, slang, body language, and communication styles of the people around them in order to fit in and to avoid attracting negative attention.

Masking is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember, way before I began to consider myself an autistic person in my late teens, and way before I received a formal diagnosis at age 26. 

For me, masking is not an ability that I can choose to deploy in certain situations, while refraining from using it in others. This is because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had something that I refer to as shyness. Shyness, for me, is a disability that makes it impossible for me to be my authentic self when I am around other people. It prevents me from expressing any opinion that the people around me are likely to disagree with, saying anything that the people around me would not expect me to say, or doing anything that the people around me are likely to find weird, strange, or bad in any way. Shyness is not mere social anxiety; it is much more severe and debilitating. I am not merely afraid to do the aforementioned things, or anxious about doing them, or worried about what the consequences would be if I did them. It is literally impossible for me to do them. I physically cannot force myself to, no matter how hard I try, and no matter how strongly I feel that doing the things would logically be the best option in the situation.

What does this have to do with masking? 

Shyness, essentially, is the same thing as masking. Or, to be exact, shyness is what causes / motivates the masking. Shyness is the thing that forces me to mask all the time. Because of my shyness, not only do I have the ability to mask, but I also have the inability to not mask. I cannot turn the masking off, no matter how badly I want to. 

In case you are wondering how a person could come to have shyness, I am not 100% sure, because I have had it for as long as I can remember. But my guess is that it resulted from one or multiple negative social experiences I had at a very young age, perhaps situations in which I received unexpected negative reactions from other people when doing things that I thought were completely innocuous. When one thinks about it this way, it becomes clear that shyness is actually a form of PTSD. Although the negative experiences that caused it were not life-threatening, my nervous system reacted as if they were, and these same emotions are activated each time I am in a social situation. In other words, every social situation that I encounter, triggers the PTSD. Every social situation triggers flashbacks of the traumatizing events that caused the shyness. The flashbacks don’t take the form of visual and auditory hallucinations of the traumatic events, as is commonly associated with PTSD. Instead, they take the form of re-experiencing the emotions from the traumatic events. My nervous system believes that I will die if I do anything that will be perceived as weird, unexpected, or bad in the eyes of the people around me. Therefore, I am unable to do these things, no matter how certain my logical brain is that I will not actually die or, in some cases, that doing the things is actually the best option in the situation.

The shyness has had a profound negative impact on my life. There are numerous jobs that I cannot do because of the interpersonal interaction required. If a restaurant messes up my order, a service provider gives me a surprisingly high bill, or a store overcharges me, I’m not able to say anything. I’m not able to negotiate with merchants or vendors to try to get a lower price. I’m not able to say no to salespeople who try to pressure me into buying things. If I’m having a problem, I’m not able to ask for help. If I don’t understand something, I’m not able to ask questions. If someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I’m not able to say that I don’t want to do it, and usually end up having no choice but to do the thing and pretend to be happy while doing so. The medical system is a nightmare, as I’m not able to say no to examinations, tests, and medical procedures that I don’t want. Perhaps most significantly, for my entire life, neither friendships nor social relationships of any kind have ever brought me the slightest amount of enjoyment, pleasure, or happiness. Social activities are, and have always been, an unpleasant chore, a task that needs to be completed before I can have time to do the things that I actually enjoy. Yet whenever someone asks me to do an activity with them, I have to say yes, resulting in my entire schedule being consumed by get-togethers that I do not look forward to and get no enjoyment out of, with no time or energy for the hobbies and interests that make my life worth living.

Many of the autistic content creators on social media who allege that masking is a privilege, also speak about partners, spouses, children, and close friends whose company they enjoy and with whom they feel truly relaxed and safe to unmask. 

Due to my shyness, all of these things are complete non-starters for me. The entire concept of a friend whose company I enjoy is a contradiction in terms. I only feel truly relaxed and able to unmask when I am by myself, or with my statues. (And then I am ridiculed, and called a white supremacist, for my love of statues.) Living with another person, as presumably those with partners, spouses, and/or children do, would be so intolerable to me that I would probably commit suicide if I had to do it for more than a couple of weeks.

Given my experiences with shyness, it is appalling that someone would claim that masking is a privilege. 

Those who claim that masking is a privilege characterize it as a tool, an ability. People who have a tool or ability at their disposal, the logic goes, are privileged compared to those who lack that tool or ability. But for a person with shyness, masking is not something that can be turned on or off, depending on what makes sense in the situation. Masking is not something that can be deployed when necessary or advantageous, and left on the shelf when not needed. Due to my shyness, masking is something that I do all the time. There is no choice. It is automatic. It cannot be turned off.

If anything, it is those without the ability to mask who are privileged. After all, it is such people who are recognized by society as being disabled, and who therefore qualify for the programs, funding, support, and accommodations that people with disabilities are entitled to receive. As a person with shyness, I am not able to act in a way that would reveal my disability. I am not able to tell or show others when I am suffering, when I am having difficulties, or when I am struggling with something. My shyness prevents me from asking for support or accommodations, let alone receiving them. Additionally, if someone is unable to mask, that means that they have no choice but to be their authentic self in every situation. This might be disadvantageous in some contexts, but it also means that if they are accepted by others, they are being accepted as their true self. For me, on the other hand, it is impossible to show my authentic self to others, completely foreclosing any possibility of my true self being accepted.

Whereas some people lack the ability to mask, I lack the ability not to. If I am privileged for having an ability that others do not, then by the same logic, people who are able to take their mask off are privileged compared to me, because they have an ability that I do not. 

In the posts claiming that the manifestation of my PTSD is somehow a privilege, I am implored to put aside my own feelings and thoughts and instead to listen to those who are allegedly less fortunate than myself. But by the same logic, those whose disabilities are more visible than mine, and who therefore do not have shyness, should be implored to put aside their feelings and thoughts in order to listen to mine. What makes people with visible disabilities so inherently superior to me that being a decent person requires me to put aside my own perspective and instead focus on theirs? Why are their perspectives inherently valid, while mine is inherently not? Why are their voices considered worthy of “centering” and “amplifying,” while my voice is considered worthy only of being dismissed? 

Yes, people with more visible disabilities, and more substantial support needs, face challenges that I do not. But as a person with shyness, and a person who has always been held to the same standards as a neurotypical person because I have always been perceived as one, I also face challenges that they do not. I don’t understand why this is considered a controversial concept. 

I have always been opposed to the entire concept of privilege. But when multiple people are claiming that a debilitating form of PTSD is a privilege, it is clear that things have reached new levels of absurdity. The concept of privilege has gone way too far and needs to be challenged and spoken out against. Privilege is a concept whose only purpose is to hurt people, to invalidate their perspectives, and to dismiss their suffering. 

bookmark_borderMy recent experience with autistic burnout

For nearly four years, I’ve been experiencing autistic burnout. I’ve been trying – with some degree of success – to make changes to my life in order to recover from this burnout, but a complete recovery still remains elusive. The burnout has been hitting really hard over the past couple of weeks.

Unlike in previous years, when the statue genocide has made me so disillusioned with the entire society that participating in its traditions has seemed vapid and pointless, there are actually a variety of things that I am excited to do this holiday season.

The problem is that no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to find the time and energy to do them.

I feel run down and worn out. I keep running into obstacles that, if I were in a better mindset to begin with, I would probably be able to overcome. But when I feel this tired, I lack resilience, and tiny obstacles are enough to completely defeat me. Little glitches, mishaps, and irritations keep happening, my brain keeps exploding, and large amounts of time keep being consumed by recovering from the brain explosion, with no possibility for accomplishing anything productive. And then, the inability to accomplish anything productive makes me frustrated, and my mood turns low and negative, and I start to lose hope that I will ever be able to do the things that I want to do. All of which makes me more susceptible to exploding if another obstacle happens.

To give just a few examples, over the past two weeks, my brain has exploded at:

  • After signing up to have my artwork displayed in a gallery, finding out that I would be required to put price stickers on each piece of artwork (I didn’t have any suitable stickers, so fulfilling this requirement would require me to spend money to purchase stickers)
  • Having to fill out a form on a website, but being unable to click on the “submit” button because it was covered by a banner regarding cookies, and the only way to make the banner go away was to check a box indicating that I agreed to the use of tracking cookies, which I wasn’t willing to do because I don’t believe in tracking cookies
  • Designing photo cards and calendars using a photo website and finding out that the shipping charge was significantly more expensive than I had anticipated
  • My Mom asking me if I was losing my voice, a question that didn’t make sense to me because I had lost my voice for a few days due to a nagging sickness, and at that point my voice was finally starting to come back
  • My Dad asking me if I wanted apple pie when I was in the middle of reading an article
  • My cell phone running out of power and needing to be plugged in for 3 hours before it was able to be used
  • Leaving work at the same time as a couple of co-workers and ending up walking to the train with them and riding the train with them, which deprived me of the alone time that I needed in order to decompress after work

I am not sure what came first, the exhaustion or the parade of frustrating little things. Regardless, I feel trapped in a cycle of being so run down that my brain explodes at the tiniest of things, making me even more run down and even more susceptible to my brain exploding.

Lately, it feels like all of my time and energy are spent merely coping with each day. It feels like I have been surviving, not living.

The Christmas cards, which I ended up ordering despite the unreasonably expensive shipping costs, actually came out really good, and I want to actually mail them.

I’d like to get a Christmas tree and decorate it with the historical figure themed ornaments that I’ve collected over the years.

I of course want to put up Christmas lights near my Stonewall Jackson statue, and possibly on the front of my house as well.

I’ve taken photos of the Christmas decorations near where I work, and the Christmas tree at the pond near my house, and I would also like to take photos of the nativity scene at the church near my house.

I would like to see the Napoleon movie, and possibly bring my mini metal version of Napoleon with me (because clearly, going to the movies with a toy soldier for company is a completely normal thing for a grown adult to do).

I want to do more artwork – there are countless ideas for drawings floating around in my brain that I have yet to put down on paper.

I want, possibly, to start a social media account dedicated to historical figures, where I would re-post / share news about new statues being made, photos from reenactments and celebrations, drawings and paintings and AI art of historical figures, and similar things.

All of these things are important to me.

Perhaps most of all, writing is important to me. I want to do more of it, both on this blog and in the form of a fantasy book series and an autobiography / memoir. What has happened to statues and monuments over the past four years has completely traumatized me and altered my life forever. Writing is the way that I process and respond to it. I am also becoming more aware of how my identity as an autistic person is intertwined with the statues. I want to write more about the statues, about my personal experiences as an autistic person, and about how these things intersect. I feel that I have a unique viewpoint and perspective, and my ideas aren’t like anyone else’s. It might sound arrogant, but I feel that my viewpoint, my perspective, and my ideas deserve to be shared, and no one can do that but me. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the ability to write and to share my ideas is necessary for me to have a life that is worth living. It is incredibly frustrating to keep not having the time and energy to do it.

But as you can see from the fact that this blog post exists, I did succeed in finding some time for writing today. So there is reason for hope.

Perhaps the solution is to schedule time on the calendar for drawing and writing, so that my chunks of free time don’t get eaten up by small tasks such as paying the water bill, sweeping the floor, or doing the laundry. This is something that my therapist suggested, but which I’ve struggled to implement. If I don’t have actually have time for both household tasks and writing, which seems to be the case given that doing the household tasks causes my potential writing time to disappear, then the only logical result of scheduling time for writing will be for the household tasks to go undone. And it is kind of important for me to pay my bills, to wash my clothes, and to keep my house reasonably clean. Scheduling blocks of time for certain activities doesn’t magically create more time; it’s just a form of arranging one’s activities differently. If the underlying problem is that I don’t have enough time for everything, my thinking goes, then rearranging things doesn’t really do anything to solve that problem.

Perhaps the solution is to do little bits of writing and drawing whenever I have spare time, instead of having the mentality that it isn’t worth starting unless I have a large chunk of uninterrupted time in which to work.

Perhaps the solution is to be more disciplined and to do little bits of drawing and writing instead of unproductive activities such as reading articles or scrolling through apps.

Perhaps a solution is a combination of these things.

Regardless, I won’t give up hope. I will keep trying to create a better life for myself, a life in which I actually have the time and energy for the things that are important.

bookmark_borderA**hole of the day: Kevin Farzad

The above post is, seemingly, intended to be funny. However, I don’t find it the least bit funny. I find it offensive and hurtful.

The author of this post, Kevin Farzad, seems to believe that for a person to remain in their hometown and eat at Olive Garden is somehow funny.

He seems to believe that these attributes somehow make a person racist, or at least inclined to make Facebook posts containing links to racist articles. 

He seems to believe that these attributes somehow make a person ridiculous, laughable, a joke.

I don’t get what is funny about any of this.

There is nothing wrong with living in the town that one is from.

There is nothing wrong with thinking that Olive Garden is fancy.

These things do not make a person racist, nor do they have anything to do with a person’s likelihood of posting a link to a racist article. These things are not funny. These things do not make a person ridiculous. These are just normal, and perfectly okay, things that a person might do.

I don’t understand why someone would think that a Facebook friend from high school, who hasn’t left their hometown and who considers Oliver Garden fancy, is funny.

I don’t understand why someone would consider such a person to be ridiculous, to be laughable, to be a joke.

Kevin Farzad is choosing to insult and ridicule people who are doing absolutely nothing wrong but are merely living in a different way than he does.

And I just don’t get what is funny about any of this.

As an autistic person, I live in a town directly bordering the town that I am from. As an autistic person, moving from place to place in service of a series of high-powered jobs that involve slaving for 80 hours a week, is simply not doable for me. As an autistic person, I don’t enjoy constantly going to trendy restaurants and bars. And because I don’t go out to eat very often, I do kind of consider Oliver Garden to be fancy.

As an autistic person whose special interest is history, I don’t support the BLM movement, because this movement advocates for discrimination against, and intentional infliction of harm and pain on, people like me. Some of the articles that I’ve shared on social media, as part of my advocacy for my right to exist, would probably be considered racist by Farzad.

Apparently, to Kevin Farzad, the idea that a person could behave, think, and live differently than he does is laughable.

Ridiculous.

A joke.

Well, I don’t find it funny.

Sorry, Kevin, that I’m autistic and therefore can’t live with roommates and move all over the country and work at a high-powered, 80-hour-a-week job and constantly go to trendy restaurants and bars and be a black supremacist.

Sorry, Kevin, that I am different than you.

Pardon me for being offended that you consider a person like me to be funny, to be laughable, to be ridiculous.

Pardon me for being offended by the implication that because I didn’t move across the country for a fancy job, that because I don’t go to hip new restaurants, I must be racist.

Pardon me for being offended that my existence is being treated as the punchline of a joke.

Sorry to be a stick in the mud, sorry to be a Debbie downer, but I find Kevin Farzad’s post to be stuck-up, mean, judgmental, intolerant, and hurtful.

I don’t get the point of it.

I don’t find it the least bit funny.

bookmark_borderAutism Acceptance Month and Confederate History Month

April is celebrated as both Autism Acceptance Month and Confederate History Month. These things might seem completely unrelated… but for me they are not.

I am on the autism spectrum. I have always experienced the world differently from other people, seen things differently, and thought differently from those around me. Until I was an adult, I never knew that there was a word for the way my mind works. I just thought I was “weird” and “mixed up” and “wrong” for not liking the things other people liked, and for having such difficulty with things like riding a bike, tying my shoes, playing sports, participating in conversations, and making friends, which seemed to come so easily to other people. I didn’t feel that I had much in common with other kids or adults at school, or even my own family members.

I did, however, feel a sense of identity with people from history. My favorite thing to do was to read about them, look at pictures of them, and imagine what their lives were like. I gravitated towards the historical figures who were under-appreciated, misunderstood, and looked down upon, probably because I considered myself to have these characteristics as well. This included historical figures from the Confederacy. Although I am not descended from anyone who fought for the Confederacy, I have always felt a sense of kinship with them because they were underdogs and rebels. They were portrayed in history class as the “bad guys,” but as I read more about them, I realized that they had their own viewpoints, perspectives, and stories, which are too frequently ignored. As someone on the autism spectrum, this was something that I could relate to.

It is difficult to put into words how much happiness historical figures have given me, and how important they are to me. Historical figures made me feel understood, and like I wasn’t alone. Therefore, it is difficult to put into words how heartbreaking and infuriating it has been to witness the horrible things that have happened to Confederate statues over the past few years. These events have made me feel like I am being morally condemned and like I am having my greatest source of joy and meaning taken away from me. As an autistic person who has spent my life trying my best to get through the demands of each day, and to be a good student, a good friend, a good employee, and a good person, I truly don’t believe I deserve this. With so much emphasis being placed on diversity and inclusion, why do I not get to feel accepted or included? Why are people like me no longer represented in art, monuments, memorials, or media? Why does society not acknowledge my perspective, my feelings, my story, or my experiences?

Because of my own personal experiences, both autism and Confederate heritage are integral parts of my identity. Both of these things have helped to shape the person that I am and the perspective through which I see the world, a perspective that deserves to be honored and recognized just as much as anyone else’s. In honor of two important and meaningful parts of my life, I will be celebrating the month of April as both Autism Acceptance Month and Confederate History Month.

Marissa and Stonewall

bookmark_borderCoexisting with the horribleness

The past two and a half years have changed me. For reasons that I may never be able to fully comprehend, our society collectively decided that it would be a good idea to completely destroy everything that makes my life worth living. To say that it is challenging to continue with my life in such a world is an understatement.

Some days, I manage to rise to the challenge. On these days, I somehow feel okay and perhaps even happy. I try my best to honor the historical figures that I love, to be an authentic person, and to live in a way that is consistent with my values. When I am not working, handling interpersonal situations, or doing tasks that need to be done at my house, I spend as much time as possible writing and drawing. And sometimes, what I do feels like enough. I now have my Stonewall Jackson statue going through this journey by my side, which helps with all of these things.

But other days, I am unable to find an acceptable way of coexisting with all of the horribleness. On those days, I am overwhelmed by the totality of the badness that people have done. On those days, I feel demoralized, defeated, disappointed, disillusioned, disheartened, and discouraged. On those days, I feel exhausted, worn out, and beaten down.

I frequently ask myself, what makes the difference between a good day and a bad day? Given that the events that changed my life have been going on for two and a half years without pause, why such a drastic difference from one day to the next?

Some of the contributing factors are relatively mundane. Everyone has days when nothing seems to go right, and I am no exception. Sometimes a restaurant messes up my food; sometimes I try to use a coupon while buying something and it doesn’t work; sometimes my computer updates and needs to restart when I’m in the middle of a time-sensitive task; sometimes I simply don’t have enough time in the day to do all of the tasks I need to. Sometimes work is chaotic; sometimes I (gasp!) make a mistake; sometimes I am running late and arrive out of breath and discombobulated from having to speedwalk and/or run to get there on time. None of these things are catastrophically bad, but they all tip the scales towards the horribleness taking over.

Because I am on the autism spectrum, I find interpersonal situations extremely difficult. Sometimes all it takes to crush my soul is an unwanted request to get together, a friend calling to chat, a social activity that lasts longer than I was anticipating, or an acquaintance who messages me and then continues to send additional messages each time I answer one, causing a seemingly never-ending conversation that I was not expecting and had not budgeted time for.

Another trait related to my autism is sensory sensitivities. Wind, rain, light shining in my eyes, sudden loud noises, clothes that just don’t fit quite right, and multiple people talking at once all increase the odds of the evil taking over.

Another potential cause of the evil taking over is when my artwork – the primary purpose of which is to honor historical figures – gets hijacked (for lack of a better word) by other purposes. Although my plan has always been to do a mix of historical figures and less controversial subjects, my mood plummets when I spend too much time doing the artwork that I think will appeal to other people, as opposed to the artwork that I actually want to do. Between commissions (which are very flattering, don’t get me wrong!), invitations to art events that I don’t think are a good fit, and people offering unsolicited advice, there are times when the amount of difficult interpersonal situations that I have to deal with outweighs the original purpose of my artwork. At these times, I feel that my art business is being controlled by other people more than by myself. Publicly honoring the historical figures is a delicate balance, and while I sometimes feel that I’m getting it right, at other times I don’t.

Sometimes the evil will be triggered by a painful reminder of the things I’ve lost. An image of the Boston skyline, a city that I once loved but that I now feel has rejected me and everything I stand for. Or worse, an image of the trellis at Christopher Columbus Park, lit up with festive blue Christmas lights that should be beautiful but now fill me with a mixture of sadness and disgust. A hockey or basketball or baseball or football game, all things that I cannot enjoy the way I used to. Even the mere mention of a city or state is enough to fill my mind with images of the statues destroyed in that city or state.

And of course, there is always the chance that I will be attacked by another instance of society’s war on everything that makes my life worth living. Another statue taken down or vandalized, Columbus Day abolished in another city or town, an appalling article or editorial, a grotesque statement by a politician, a nasty social media comment, a “laughing face” reaction to a post that wasn’t intended to be funny. The possibilities, unfortunately, are endless.

Possibly related to being on the autism spectrum is the fact that there very rarely is a middle ground for me. I can tolerate a certain amount of stressful and upsetting things weighing on me, but once the combination of things exceeds a certain threshold (a threshold that seems to be impossible to identify ahead of time), I either psychologically collapse or explode. In other words, I am either doing fine, or I am in such excruciating pain that it feels like my soul is being eviscerated.

The excruciating pain consists of both grief and rage. Unfathomable grief for the historical figures who have been brutally obliterated from existence, the very things that make our world beautiful irretrievably ruined. And equally enormous rage at the people who chose to do this. But in addition to the grief and the rage is frustration. Frustration that no matter how hard I try, I am unable to communicate how I am feeling in a way that others can understand. I have a large vocabulary and, as both my parents and my blog readers can tell, a tendency to speak and/or write at length about the topics that interest me. But none of the words that I speak or write are enough to convey to others what I am experiencing and how the statue genocide has affected me. None of my words are enough to make others see what I see or feel what I feel.

I am certain that if I could just get others to understand how I feel, they would immediately realize that what happened was wrong. They would condemn the atrocities without hesitation. They would profusely apologize for not having done so sooner. They would fall all over each other in their haste to offer reparations and compensation. And they would go out of their way to lift up and honor, via parades, ceremonies, and public celebrations, the historical figures who have been harmed. They would jump into action to rectify the situation, ordering every statue to be returned to its rightful location and diverting millions of dollars from other government programs to build new Confederate statues and new Columbus statues instead.

Obviously, no one is doing that. Or anything even remotely resembling that. And that is why the frustration, from time to time, boils over.

bookmark_borderDear lady on the Orange Line…

Dear lady on the Orange Line on Wednesday morning who called me a “terrible person,” “self-centered,” and “oblivious” for sitting instead of offering my seat to someone else:

Your behavior was so rude that I am still upset, appalled, and shaken two days later.

Many, perhaps most, people will think that you are in the right, and our unpleasant interaction my fault. To recap the facts of the situation, I boarded the train when there were many vacant seats. At a subsequent stop, when there were no more vacant seats, what appeared to be a family with two adults and two children between the ages of three and ten boarded the train. I did not offer them a seat, and neither did anyone else. A few stops later, you boarded the train and began to loudly castigate me to everyone within earshot.

You were so busy insulting me that you probably did not stop to wonder about what my thought process might have been. I will try to explain:

  1. First of all, I dislike standing. It is difficult to get reading done and it is physically draining.
  2. Second, I also strongly dislike when people offer me their seat. It makes me feel embarrassed, self-conscious, and uncomfortable. I believe in the golden rule and therefore am reluctant to do things to other people that I would dislike if done to me.
  3. Third, I am very shy. It is difficult for me to initiate interactions with strangers, even for something as simple as offering my seat.
  4. Fourth, no one else in my row of seats was making any move to offer up their seats, and I did not think one seat would be particularly useful to a group of four. Three of the people would still have to stand, and most likely none of the four would feel comfortable being the one to take the seat.
  5. Fifth, I believe that as a general rule, whoever gets to a seat first is entitled to the seat. This rule is fair, simple, easy, and does not cause anyone to feel patronized, insulted, guilty, resentful, or embarrassed. Because I got on the train when there were many vacant seats, I think it was reasonable for me to believe that I had a right to sit.
  6. Sixth, no one asked to sit, so I assumed that no one wanted to. If someone had politely asked for my seat, I would happily have obliged.
  7. And seventh, on another occasion a while back, there was a dad holding his daughter on a crowded train, struggling to keep his balance, and no one offered their seat (I was standing so did not have the option of offering a seat). This gave me the impression that little kids are not considered a situation that requires offering one’s seat.

I am on the autism spectrum and struggle with social situations. What comes naturally to most people, I need to use reasoning and logic to figure out. Because no one is perfect, I occasionally judge social situations incorrectly. I found this particular situation very awkward and was not sure of the best thing to do, but I decided to err on the side of doing nothing as opposed to taking an action that had the potential to make the situation even more uncomfortable. Each and every day, I try my very best to navigate interpersonal interactions in a polite and socially acceptable way. To be so harshly attacked for what was at worst a minor social mistake is disturbing and demoralizing.

You are a bully. Anyone on the train could have offered their seat to a member of the family but you inexplicably singled me out for verbal abuse.

You accused me of sitting in a “handicapped seat,” but I was not. As I pointed out to you, there was no blue sign on my seat indicating “priority seating” for people with disabilities.

You yelled that I “need to reflect.” I have been reflecting on this upsetting experience, as you so nastily ordered, and the more that I do so, the more convinced I am that you were in the wrong. Perhaps, ideally, I should have offered my seat. But you are the one who went out of your way to viciously insult a stranger. Your reaction would have been appropriate if you had seen someone being raped or assaulted, or someone attempting to carry out a terrorist attack. To react in such a way to a person sitting and quietly reading the newspaper is preposterous.

I cannot comprehend the self-righteous attitude that would cause someone to interfere so aggressively in a situation that is none of his or her business. It is impossible to tell by looking at someone what is going on in his or her life, how badly he or she needs a seat, or whether he or she has a disability. It probably didn’t occur to you that I might be on the autism spectrum when you called me “self-centered” and a “terrible person.” For all you could tell, I might have had a physical disability that requires sitting, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. My mom has severe back problems that cause almost constant pain and make it impossible for her to sit or stand for any significant amount of time, but she appears perfectly healthy.

When I got off of the train (before the stop I was attempting to get to) I was so upset that I felt on the verge of either fainting or throwing up. I was so mortified and humiliated that I had trouble concentrating on my work. You went out of your way to cause this. If that doesn’t constitute being a terrible person, I’m not sure what does.

It is you who needs to reflect on what would cause someone to berate and insult an innocent person who is minding her own business.